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WHITE TIE AFFAIR IN WASHINGTON, DC

AT HOME IN MY SWEAT PANTS

Everyone loves a good roast, right? Yes, with one sometime exception: the roastee. Which is why I’m a little worried that I haven’t heard from Vincent since sending out my Year-in-Review letter to friends and family. I typically rip hard on someone annually, and Vincent was my 2012 victim: I basically inferred (multiple times) that he was simple-minded and downright slow.

“Ummmm, did you get my letter?” I email him.

Vincent replies that yes, he’s just been too busy to respond, and he happens to have two seats to this year’s Gridiron Club Dinner and would I like one of them? Which just goes to show you making fun of people pays-off.

“Hell, yes!”

I look-up the Gridiron Club Dinner online: I’m pretty sure I know what it is but I’m not entirely convinced.

THE WHITE TIE AFFAIR

According to Wikipedia, the Gridiron Club and Foundation is the oldest and one of the most prestigious journalistic organizations in Washington, D.C. It is best-known for its annual dinner, a white tie affair that features satirical and self-deprecating member skits and witty remarks by the president (he shows some years, but not all) and representatives of each political party (ironically, a sort of roast).

I’ve never been to a white tie affair, let alone a white tie affair also attended by Barack and Michelle Obama. I’m thrilled.

LIVE, FROM MADISON: IT’S MONDAY MORNING!

There is one catch: the dinner is scheduled for March 9 — the same night as my department’s most important customer event at the biggest industry conference of the year. I dial-in  to my bi-monthly call with my manager from a rented Yaris in a cold parking garage of a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin (my meeting has just finished, and cell-phone service in the building is non-existent). I nervously tell him of my opportunity, promising to never take maternity leave if he gives me this one weekend off. I don’t think my request was unreasonable — I work plenty of nights and weekends and I rarely ask for anything — but my boss is pretty unpredictable (or I am pretty bad at predicting him). And… he tells me to go and have a great time. Sincerely.

Let’s do this thing!

CHICAGO

I Google white tie affair dress.

For women, a white tie affair is the time to pull out all the stops and be as glamorous and sparkling as you can be. Beaded gowns and intricately coiffed hairstyles with your very best jewelry are all called for.

I have no beaded gowns — in fact I don’t own A gown — but I am the proud owner of a pair of to-die-for Giuseppe Zanotti heels that I bought three years ago. I was unemployed at the time so the guilt nearly killed me but I knew that some day I’d need these babies and never be able to find them again.

Giuseppi Zanotti Black Heels

Now for the gown. First stop: Nicole Miller on North Wells Street. And there it was: the black on black dress (with the addition of shoulder straps) from the iconic Grace Kelly L’Instant Taittinger poster. In my size. Sure, it needs hemming and the benefit of some serious boob padding, but I brought it in to Ms. Couture this week and they’ve assured me it won’t be a problem.

Taittinger L'Instant Poster

Spanx? Got ‘em. Purse? I bought a black satin clutch trimmed in fuschia at a Jim Thompson store in Bangkok back in 2008 so all I need now is some bling: my standard industrial steel and silver is not going to cut it. It’s time for a trek to LuLu’s at the Belle Kay. The glamorous proprietress, Laurie, is notorious for either embracing you (out comes the champagne) or rejecting you (“we don’t carry your size, dear”) the instant you step inside, but she’s not here today. It’s just her saleswoman and me and we debate for an hour over the perfect piece(s). I indulge in a gorgeous, art deco bracelet but resist the earrings she recommends. I don’t love them enough to be able to justify them.

I head south to Vintage Underground. Damn! Glass cabinet after glass cabinet stuffed with vintage rhinestore jewelry. But one pair stands out, and now they’re mine.

Vintage art deco rhinestone jewelry

I am so ready to do this white tie event! And explore Washington, D.C. . I’ve been watching Homeland every night for the past month and that spy museum is calling out to me.

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GRIDIRON CLUB DINNER: WINNING FRIENDS, INFLUENCING PEOPLE

BACKGROUND

Neither Vincent nor I have attended a Gridiron Club Dinner before this evening. At first I had it confused with the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. The two affairs are similar — both are annual fora for prominent politicians and journalists to roast themselves and the other via satirical and self-deprecating skits and speeches — but the WHCA program is televised, hosted by a comedian and attended by celebrities of varying star-power (Lindsay Lohen, Kim Kardashian and George Clooney were guests last year). Less is publicly known about the more private Gridiron Club Dinner, which is limited to politicians, journalists and their guests. It is not broadcasted.

I lucked into an invitation through Vincent, my friend of several years, whose (wonderful) family includes a highly-ranked, well-respected Washington, DC journalist.

Vincent and Esme at the Gridiron Club Dinner

GRIDIRON CLUB RECEPTION

The Secret Service awaits us at the entry to the Renaissance Marriott function space. Vincent surrenders his wallet and I my purse; we pass through metal detectors which fortunately do not alarm at the small mine of bobby pins gerryrigging my french twist in place. Cleared, we run into Meg, a friend of Vincent’s family, and her husband Allen. They are dashing and fun and determined that everyone has a cocktail. I like these two a lot.

Many familiar faces pass by us, some we can identify and others we can’t quite place although we’ve seen them on tv dozens of times. Each of us agree that we would recognize Wolf Blitzer, a conversation that devolves into a competition as to who can spot and engage him first. Photographic proof is required. Extra points for stroking his beard.

We are ushered into The Special Room, a private Gridiron Club Dinner reception within the Gridiron Club Dinner reception. Governor Bobby Jindal and his wife, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett have beaten us here. A bald, distinguished-looking man stands alone at the bar, and someone among us knows him to be James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. I jokingly ask Meg and Allen if they dare me to go over and ask him what happens on the next season of Homeland (it’s true that I’m dying to know).

And Allen is beelining it for Mr. Clapper like a rabid drone. He engages the target. We watch, shocked, awed.

Allen reports back. Mission Gridiron Club Dinner Accomplished. He promises that he asked the Director of National Intelligence about the Showtime series.

Score, Team Meg and Allen.

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GRIDIRON CLUB DINNER: OH WHAT A NIGHT

GRIDIRON CLUB DINNER

This Gridiron Club Dinner butter is The Best Butter Ever!

Gridiron Club Dinner Butter

The room goes dark. The Gridiron Club President delivers a witty address met with laughter and applause. It must be nice presenting to journalists. They don’t miss a reference.

The United States Marine Band plays a rousing march, followed by a waltz.

The opening skit, the Four Seasons’ Oh What a Night tweaked into Oh What a Year, reminds us of some of the major events of recent past and sets the tone for the evening: we are warned that there will be some barbs thrown, but assured that they’re meant to be enjoyed. The goal of the evening, we’re told, is to have fun.

I cannot compare this Gridiron Club Dinner to previous years, but it appears that the writers did not lack for material from 2012/early 2013. Popular butts of jokes include:

Whenever they lob one at The President I look over at him to gauge his reaction. His seemingly uncalculated response is a good-natured, self-confident smile set in a decidedly square jaw. He’s SO handsome!

Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, is introduced. He must feel like the lone Republican on the panel of Bill Maher’s Real Time in THIS crowd. I permit him only a wary golf clap, just because he plays for The Other Team.

Five minutes later: he’s won me over. Jindal is self-deprecating and frankly, hilarious. He mentions meeting Joe Biden, and say he doesn’t think Joe recognized him because he asked Bobby to get him a slurpy. Brilliant.

More skits follow, then Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Senator, presents. She fires-off a zinger Jindal’s way, comparing the Speech in the Dark from earlier in the evening to the Super Bowl. This woman is having so much fun up there on the stage, and is so damn likable, I want to be her BFF. And — AND — she makes the only PG-13 joke of the night so far. Love her!

INTERMISSION IS THE BEST PART OF THE GRIDIRON CLUB DINNER

Vincent has met President Obama, so he introduces me to him. We shake hands. Vincent tells him that I hale from Chicago. Obama asks me where I live in Chicago.

I can’t remember where I live in Chicago!

I finally sputter out my cross-streets. A neighborhood would have sufficed. The President comments on how easy our winters have been in the so-called Windy City.

“Yeah, they’re a piece of cake,” I reply.

OH MY GOD. I just said “piece of cake” to the President of the United States. I have never before employed that overused phrase in my life.

The show continues and each skit is as clever as the last one.

  • Mandatory Legislative Budget Sequestration set to Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  • I’m not Barack (I am Joe Biden) set to I am a Rock (I am an Island)
  • And, Everybody Must Get Stoned is upgraded to — wait for it — Everybody Must Get Droned

We have been laughing collectively for over three hours. Great fun.

Obama’s up. He nails it. Perfect timing. Impeccable delivery. That Smile. He closes:

In the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — “May the force be with you.”

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